The agreement was reached at the just concluded 25th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) Retreat in Phuket, Thailand.
RCEP negotiations began in February, 2017, and are scheduled to conclude later this year. Involved countries have fundamentally resolved issues relating to market accession for about 80% of goods.
Minimizing trade barriers within ASEAN
ASEAN Economic Ministers signed the ASEAN Trade in Services Agreement to improve regional standards and minimize barriers in trade and services. Benefited goods and services include healthcare, tourism, accommodations, construction, and exhibitions. Another signed document is the 4th Protocol revising the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement which will resolve certain issues for foreign investors to boost regional investment.
The Ministers agreed to speed up merging the single-window systems of member countries for faster customs clearance. ASEAN’s single-window system has boosted cross-border trade and will reduce the wait time for goods at borders from 10 days to 3 days. Technical services for implementation have been finalized in all 10 ASEAN countries.
The World Bank Vice Chairwoman in Asia-Pacific Victoria Kwakwa said that the governments should try to do the ASEAN single window. It is the most important first step.
The ASEAN single window should be improved to be more efficient so it will be really a single window that it’s supposed to be, Kwakwa noted.
ASEAN Economic Community and integration targets
As ASEAN Chair, Thailand proposed 13 ambitious economic targets to boost regional integrations, including preparation for ASEAN to face the Industrial Revolution 4.0; boosting ASEAN connectivity through trade, investment, and tourism; and strengthening sustainable economic development.
ASEAN has the most free trade agreements at a time when globalization and trade protection are competing worldwide. Vietnam aims to boost trade cooperation within ASEAN and expand cooperation with outside partners.
Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung said “Vietnam wants to increase trade cooperation within ASEAN. We have integrated into ASEAN and expanded cooperation with many other economies. Many big economies will participate in RCEP to create huge economic interests. ASEAN members all wait to speed up the negotiation process.”
Vietnam is one of 5 ASEAN countries exchanging e-custom clearance through the ASEAN single-window mechanism. Vietnam’s tariff removal rate within the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement is 98%.
Preparing to take over the ASEAN Chair next year, Vietnam has worked closely with other ASEAN countries to implement the ASEAN Economic Community’s Strategic Action Plan to 2025. It will strive to maintain ASEAN’s ranking among the 10 strongest economies in the world through ASEAN Connectivity Initiatives and Community Vision 2025.